First in-person ceremony since 2019 draws hundreds of friends and family
The UC Davis School of Medicine graduated 126 students on Friday in a ceremony that featured a processional led by bagpipes and the return of big crowds – the first in-person commencement since 2019.
“After two years where we have had to move our commencement exercises to a virtual, Facebook Live format,” said Mark Servis, vice dean for Medical Education, “it was great to hear the pipers and the processional again, and to feel the excitement in the room, and to have the Class of 2022 gathered together in one place for this special moment.”
The 51st commencement ceremony took place at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for Performing Arts in Davis. Students sat in graduation regalia on stage while hundreds of cheering friends and family watched in the audience.
The scenery in the cavernous theater was in deep contrast to the past two graduations. During those, students and their loved ones sat in their homes across California, staring into laptop computers, with the host occasionally telling a student in front of the whole class, “You’re on mute!”
But at the in-person graduation, the coronavirus was still on people’s minds – especially experienced doctors who rarely, if it all, removed their masks and remain wary about large gatherings.
“We do want to ask you all to prioritize your own health and safety, and the health and safety of those around you in this indoor setting, as we have been seeing a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in our hospital and in our community that is consistent with national trends,” Servis said, adding that UC Davis encourages masking.
David Lubarsky, the vice chancellor of human health sciences and chief executive officer for UC Davis Health, directed the first part of his message to the audience.
“When I look out and I see all of you, I know how much our students depended on you, not just to be here to celebrate with them, but to help them through the last couple of years, especially, when resilience and hope were maybe a little shorter in supply than they should have been.”
He continued: “And I know that they counted on their loved ones, on their family members, on their parents, on their partners, to help them get through the last couple of years, to get onto this stage. And I want to personally thank you all for being there for them, and give you a round of applause.”
Interim medical school Dean Susan Murin praised students for rising to the challenges during the pandemic with “courage, resilience, determination and compassion.”
She said the Class of 2022’s dedication to health equity, including their volunteerism through COVID-19 community vaccination clinics, has been recognized nationally as a model for other schools.
“Your education and training at UC Davis have proven that you have what it takes to be extraordinary physicians,” she said.
The new doctors will begin medical residencies this summer in 20 different specialties across 18 states. Nearly two-thirds are going into primary care, which is well above the national average, and more than 75 percent will stay in California.
Student speaker Rene Phan, who will train in pediatrics, recounted a year-by-year summary of the past four years, as well as the life transitions that many experienced outside of school.
“I’d like to thank all of the faculty, staff, friends and family here today for your love and support. Because it’s all of you who have made this journey not only possible but worthwhile,” she said. “Of course, I’d like to thank the graduating class of 2022 for all these memories and more that I’ll cherish going forward.”
Shard Jain, the dean of students, internist and keynote speaker, said he shared a special bond with the students – he started working at UC Davis the year they started medical school.
Jain, who has a self-proclaimed passion for social justice, reminded students how the pandemic exposed serious health inequities and urged them to “use your platform” to improve patients’ lives, regardless of patients’ backgrounds or shortcomings.
“You are about to receive your Doctor of Medicine degree,” Jain said. “How will you choose to fulfill your role and responsibility in society, your societal identity? What will you do, to make things better for your patients, and for other patients like your patients?”
There is no single answer or path to take, he said, telling students they must decide to do what feels best for them.
“In summary,” Jain added, “I hope you have a clearer understanding of the importance of bringing together your personal, professional and societal identities to improve the care you provide to your patients and the impact you have on your communities.”
Commencement also included an awards ceremony and tributes to Faith Fitzgerald, a retired professor of internal medicine who passed away in December and whom many faculty members referred to as legendary.
And of course, graduation featured the conferring of the M.D. degree for students who spent anywhere from three to six years at the School of Medicine, depending on which pathway they pursued.
Each student stepped to the front of the stage where either Jain or Dean of Curriculum Kristin Olson placed a graduation hood over their gown. Immediately after, the student was met by family members who accompanied them across the stage to pick up their diplomas.
Some walked hand-in-hand with relatives who wore cultural attire. Others pushed their parents in wheelchairs. Some graduates held their children, barely months old.
Isabella León was met on stage by her partner, holding a dog in a red harness.
Marisol Solis released her father’s hand so he could carry her across the second half of the stage, the way a dad takes a girl to her room at bedtime.
The ceremony concluded with a display of the school’s expansive diversity: The Physician’s Oath was read not only in English, but in 20 other languages native to the students or their families.
Graduates interviewed at the event expressed bittersweet sentiment.
“It’s a little surreal,” said Ashley Schmidt. “It’s great to see everyone together. It’s really been a hard time during the pandemic, so having this in person is a special thing.” Schmidt was planning to celebrate at a backyard barbecue then prepare for a family medicine residency at Sutter Health in Sacramento.
Diego Anaya said he felt a combination of nervousness and excitement. “I’m excited because this is the culmination of so many years of schooling, but nervous because intern year is like a whole other level.” He’ll train in general surgery at UC Davis Medical Center.
The commencement ceremony can be watched here.